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ACU Blog  / Avoiding Online Financial Scams in the Digital Age [Top 7 Safety Tips]
24 July 2023 / 3 minute read

Avoiding Online Financial Scams in the Digital Age [Top 7 Safety Tips]

Falling victim to online financial scams is far too common and can be avoided. Use these top online safety tips to protect your identity and finances.

We hear the occasional news about hackers stealing millions from large corporations and warnings about securing our devices. But sometimes, a disconnect exists between the splashy headlines and dark warnings. Truth be told, hackers target individuals more frequently than big companies. The following social media fraud statistics demonstrate that digital thieves continue to successfully scam everyday people.

  • The number of people who lost money to social media fraud doubled from 2020 to 2021.

  • Social media fraud exceeded $770 million in 2021, representing 26 percent of all fraud.

  • Social media fraud increased 18-fold during the last four years.

  • Upwards of 70 percent of reported losses stemmed from investment scams, romance scams, and online shopping fraud in 2021.

A digital con artist sitting in a café halfway around the world is effectively immune from prosecution. They have nothing but time to devise more cunning scams to defraud honest people. That’s why our hard-working community members need to remain vigilant. We hope these online safety tips prove useful in protecting your money.


1. Learn the Signs of Online Shopping Scams

Teens and millennials generally possess a higher comfort level with online shopping than Baby Boomers. Growing up in the digital age allows younger demographics to seamlessly navigate the online possibilities. But scammers are using complacency against people. When online shoppers find a coveted product for a fraction of the price, that discount may be the bait. After luring buyers to give their financial, credit card, and personal information, charges are racked up, and bank accounts are drained. If you come across a deal that’s too good to be true, make sure you follow these tips:

  • Do not provide Social Security numbers.

  • Do not provide bank account numbers.

  • Call the customer service phone number and assess the response.

Some of the telltale signs to watch for include poor grammar, bootlegged logos, inordinately low prices, or a website name that’s a knock-off of a well-known one. These platforms quickly generate bad reviews, and a separate Google search about them may uncover warnings. If you feel uneasy about the website, don’t move forward. The risk of loss generally outweighs the savings.

2. Recognize Identity Theft Schemes

Identity theft has become increasingly easy for a cybercriminal to pull off. Many people put personal information on professional platforms such as LinkedIn, and birthdays on social media spaces such as Facebook. Much of the data a scammer needs is already online. Don’t be surprised if you receive an electronic message that asks for your Social Security number.

With your name, address, birthday, and Social Security numbers, a cybercriminal may have all they need to leverage your identity. But by removing birthdays, addresses, and other items that identify who you are and where you live, criminals will have a tougher time using social media as a weapon.


3. Avoid Online Talent Scams 

Posting online contests for music, artwork, poetry, and other skills has become big business on the internet. Mirroring television talent shows, scammers ask for a seemingly nominal fee to enter your creative efforts. They take the money and may even dole out a fraction to “winners.” But the next step involves you giving them more money with the incentive of increased notoriety. This isn’t a big break. It’s a big scam. Stick with real-life talent showcases.


4. Be Cautious with Your Love – It Can Break Your Bank Account 

Fraudsters prey on human emotions, and loneliness makes people vulnerable. After establishing a “love connection,” the digital persona on the other end starts to need money. Urgent medical help, loss of a job, or money for a plane ticket to meet you are ways love scams drain your bank accounts. If you would like companionship, consider dating platforms. Meet real people in a public place and buy them a coffee. Never give money to someone you have not met in person.


5. Be on the Lookout for Get-Rich Schemes

The growth of remote work capabilities helped digital tricksters create a new scheme. They offer high-paying opportunities as long as you sign up for what seems like a nominal fee. Other hustles include platforms to invest in cryptocurrency they say will triple in value overnight. Flimflam artists typically use an enticement that makes you feel like you are going to win the lottery. Steer clear of get-rich schemes because they make you less so in the end.


6. Check Your Text Messages Carefully

Swindlers know we all receive numerous daily text messages, and they are now using them to steal. The general public understands that many unsolicited emails are nothing but scams. However, text messages seem more legitimate.

That’s why online thieves are using text messages as an email replacement. If you receive a text message that asks for money, to click on a website, download a file, or provide personal data, promptly delete it. Online fraudsters will use any electronic means available to bamboozle you. 


7. Watch for Fake Profiles on Facebook

The Better Business Bureau issued warnings that Facebook is being used to initiate scams. Methods involve contact from a friend or relative who claims you are entitled to found money or valuable goods. These fake profiles may appear to be someone you know. But once they ask for prepayment to cover shipping or processing costs, give your friend or family members a phone call to confirm. 

Messages inviting you to click on a link or photo, even from an existing Facebook friend, should be highly questioned. It's very possible that your friend's account was hacked and the malicious link is hoping to accomplish the same thing with your account.

We hope these tips for avoiding online scams prove helpful. If you encounter a phony website or are the subject of digital fraud, report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission. If you notice something incorrect on your debit card, credit card, or account statement, contact your credit union or bank immediately.